Most organisations approach competitive intelligence in a fire-fighting mode. They watch their market share go down one quarter, and hope it just a one-off thing. After the trend persists in the second quarter, they start making noises internally and call senior level meetings to discuss the situation. When they are still not able to pin down the root cause and possible corrective actions, they appoint an external consultant to do a CI study and diagnose the malady. By the time the results and recommendations of the study come in, another couple of months have gone by, and it has become that much more difficult to reverse the trend. Had they got even a hint of the impending trend before it was actually seen in the quarterly results, they could have started taking corrective action much earlier.
Yes, I am advocating the merits of continuous monitoring of the competitive environment to avoid getting into such binds. Organisations (like most of us, I’m afraid) are fairly short-sighted when it comes to risk mitigation. While one is young and healthy, illness and death seem very far away and the insurance premium weighs heavy on the pocket. You realise its value only when you have to go through the hospital door. Organisations too, under-invest in competitive intelligence while the sailing is smooth.
I like Tom Hawes’ comparison of CI with military preparedness. Soldiers spend most of their time training and preparing for war – many of them may never fight one. Effective CI practitioners spend most of their time monitoring and interpreting what the customers, competitors, regulators etc. are doing. They look out for signals and trends that will warn them in advance when the company needs to make a course correction. They need to fire-fight only once in a while. In fact, if they do their job well, they should never have to fight fire. It is their job to spot opportunities before they are grabbed by the competitors; and threats before they blow up into crisis situations.
Unfortunately, since the success of CI practitioners lies in never having to fight fires, they seldom get the glory and glamour associated with fire-fighters. Organisations often neglect their function.